Charlie Mulligan, 43, is a prolific volunteer. By the time he enrolled in the Cornell-Queens Executive MBA program, he’d volunteered at so many places that he had a hard time keeping track of them. Both research and experience had taught him that volunteering is more than just a nice thing to do. “I was reading an article about how people that meet in groups at least once a month increase their happiness as much as people who double their salary,” he says. And so, in November 2010, Mulligan conceived of the idea for GiveGab, a social network that makes it easier for volunteers to find and track opportunities.
In January 2011, he convinced Aaron Godert, a tech-savvy EMBA classmate, to sign on as co-founder and head of technology. By August 2012, the founders had what they considered their minimum viable product–a beta site. They pitched the idea to venture capitalists, who responded with some $1.6 million in funding. In August 2013, GiveGab went live.
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Before business school, Mulligan ran a print media advertising company. But he’d never overseen a social enterprise. “To tell you the truth, I didn’t really know the term ‘social enterprise’ when I went to grad school,” he admits. “I came out of a family business, and I was always very proud of how my dad ran his company, so I knew I wanted to run it a certain way.” He’s since embraced the title. “I love doing something that has a mission, that’s very focused on the general good, but that also can provide a living for the people that work for it,” he says. “I think those few things combined can be very powerful.”
For Mulligan, calling his startup a social enterprise doesn’t diminish its appeal to investors–in fact, it’s a strategic move. “The thing that most people don’t realize with venture capitalists and bigger investors–they don’t just want to make money,” Mulligan says. “They’ll say they do, but they also want to feel great about themselves. So, if you’re a social entrepreneur, and you can find the right investors, they will absolutely buy into what you’re doing.”
His advice for entrepreneurs, in general? “I would just let them know not to worry about having huge gaping holes in their strategy, because the process will help them as they go,” Mulligan says. “Investors will give them advice, their customers will tell them, their employees will tell them, so just being open to any and all ideas that you get … is a great way to go. You don’t need to know everything–that’s for sure.”
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